Self-Rescue and Self-Landing and Self-Exits Course


Understanding Safety Systems:

By David Dorn © Friday, April 12, 2013


Risks and responsibilities:

Kiteboarding is an extreme sport and has inherent risks associated with it. Operating kiteboarding equipment in unsuitable conditions or misuse of equipment can result in serious injury or death. There are also risks associated with inappropriate or malfunctioning equipment. So having a thorough understanding the equipment you are using including its intended purpose and function, and having the knowledge and ability to care and maintain the equipment is an important part of kiteboarding safety.



The most important skill for any kiteboarder is the ability to stop kiting whenever they want.  Stopping means depowering the kite fully.

To depower the kite fully it will rely somewhat on the type of kite being used, and on the configuration of the safety system.


100% depower:

Some kites and bars, will give you 100% Depower,

These are usually the types of safety systems that flag the kite fully by pulling on a single line. We sometimes call these systems flagging safety systems.


Single line safety systems:

When a kite’s safety system is deployed, it allows the kite to flag out by holding tension on one line while all of the other lines go slack.

The safety system needs to be matched to the kite. Because if there is any tension remaining on any of the other lines, the kite can catch wind, and start to rotate. Some people call this the powerloop, or death spiral.

A kite that is power-looping on its own can generate tremendous power, and drag the rider through the water or into solid objects. In a serious power-looping scenario, the rider may have no alternative other than to eject the entire kite.


Different Single Line Safety systems:

Depending on the design, the kite’s safety line, can be any single line. There are some systems that use one of the rear lines, and some that use one of the front lines. And of course the 5th line safety line is usually using the front center line.

Old kites tended to use one of the rear lines, but this was found to cause the kite to loop as it fell. After the kite system was activated, the kite would spiral several times before landing. This would cause the kite lines to become somewhat tangled,  and after activation of the safety system, the kite was also not relaunchable. Later designs, saw the safety systems using one of the front lines, this is preferable to back lines and controls the kite better after safety system activation. The kite can still twist as it falls and relaunching is not recommended because the lines are probably tangled.


About 5th lines systems.

The 5th Line safety system has the advantage of allowing the kite to fall without the lines becoming tangled. After the activation of the safety system, the kite it held with tension on the 5the line which is attached to the center of the kite’s leading edge. This helps the kite to stay is a depowered position that is stable.

However with the advantages of the 5th line come some disadvantages, or quirks.

In strong wind the kite can fly upside down. On the safety line. The kite can stay in the air flying above the water. In these situations the kite can create some drag on the rider and it can be a scary situation for an inexperienced rider. To bring the kite down the rider can haul it down by climbing the safety line hand over hand, and pull the kite down out of the air. Another way to get the kite down is for the rider to swim down-wind vigorously, in an attempt to reduce the kite’s apparent wind and decrease the lift.

When the kiter swims downwind the kite should descend.

For a more experienced rider they can attempt to regain the kite bar, and steer the kite toward the water.  5th line systems also have the reputation of tangling if the 5th line gets over the top of the kite’s canopy. If the kite flips over downwind it can cause the line to wrap around the kite. This happens n waves. If the fifth line gets wrapped the kite will not relaunch.


Checking Safety Systems:

Safety systems need to be tested and checked, for suitability as well as functionality. Kite safety systems need to be checked by experienced kiters. In controlled conditions. (I.E. not strong winds)


Semi-Suicide System:

The other type of safety system that is being used is the semi-suicide system.

The problem with semi suicide systems is that they do not give the rider the ability to depower the kite in all situations.

This is less off a problem in light winds, but is a serious problem in stronger wind,


Mini 5th line systems.

One type of Semi Suicide system is the Mini-5th. Mini fifth lines have a second safety line that goes up to a “V” in the lines, where the two-front lines meet. The safety line pulls equally on the v and both front lines get pulled. The kite can only depower as much as it is designed to do. This depends on the kites shape and the kite’s bridle system.

It should be notes that there are no true 100% depower kites, because all kites generate drag, even when held at  degrees angle of attach or when flagged out from a wing tip or corner. BUT Kites that do not have an SLE or bow type bridle will retain much of their power after their safety systems have been activated.

Of the modern kite shapes, the hybrid kites with mini bridals do this. And C-kites as well.

Deltas and C-Bow style kites.


Autonomous Depower = Autonomous Stopping:

The ability to fully depower the kite is necessary in order to stop. To cease motion is vital when getting close to hazards, obstacles or other kiters.

The kiteboarder needs the ability to autonomously depower the kite and come to a complete standstill. Either on land or in the water.



Any system that does not depower the kite 100% should be considered less than safe.

Semi Suicide safety systems are not recommended for beginners and they are not recommend for use in strong winds.


Ejecting the kite:

In an emergency a semi-suicide system user may need to eject the kite. This is not a good option for two reasons, the kiter loses the kite, and the kite becomes a hazard to other people and property.


Loose Kites:

When a kite gets lose it is a hazard to other kiters and other water users. A loser kite can also become dangerous as it comes onto land, and can cause injuries and property damage.’

Loose kites can entangle the lines of other kiters and burden the victim with a second kite. When the bar of the loose kite hits the lines of the kiter the lose kite can become tangled and get fully powered. When this happens the victim has no control over the parasite kite because its bar is out of reach at close to their own kite. This can easily overwhelm the victim and drag them through the water, or underwater or even into obstacles. This situation has been known to cause fatalities.


Kite leashes:

All kites need safety leashes.

The safety leash is often misunderstood. But one important thing to remember is that one of its jobs of to prevent the kite from getting lose and becoming a hazard to the public.

the kite leash is for everyone else’s safety.

The kite leash also keep the rider in contact with the kite, and prevents many accidental ejections. The kite is a rider’s life line, and becoming accidentally detached from a kite can be distressful an dangerous for the person using the kite as well. A free-swimming kite-less kiter is a difficult target to see for would-be rescuers, and is also difficult to see by other boat traffic,. A free-swimming kiter could be run over by powerboats or other water traffic.

A free-swimming kiter has to swim to shore unaided. And hopefully a free-swimming kiter will be wearing adequate floatation as well. As well and thermal protection to avoid exposure in a prolonged immersion.

After losing a kite a kiter may have to swim for an hour or two back to shore.

(that is why we say ” never kite farther than you can swim”).

Kite leashes can become tangles, and kite leashes must have a quick release. The leashes quick release must be positioned within reach at the rider’s end.


Stoppers and Sliders:

Stoppers are fixtures put on kite lines to limit the travel of the bar. When the safety system is activated, the bar slides u the line, until it hits the “stopper ball”. The stopper ball is designed to limit the distance that the bar can slide up the line, to make bar recovery easier, and to stop the bar sliding all of the way to the kite. If the bar slide3s too far up the safety line then the lines tend to get more tangled.

The stopper ball, needs to be positioned at a sufficient distance from the bar to allow the kite to fully depower. If the stopper ball is too close to the bar, then the kite will not fully depower after the safety system is activated. If the kite does not fully depower it can become a hazard to the rider, as they lose the ability to autonomously stop. In some cases a poorly placed stopper ball will cause a kite to windmill, and generate power loops after the safety system is activated. This is a danger in strong winds.

Generally it is better to have a stopper placed farther away from the kite rather than too close. The sliding distance of the bar should be greater than the longest dimension of the largest kite being used. Example: the safety lines can slide further than the flat span of the kite. In some cases this is difficult to achieve when using very short training lines. For example using 4m lines on a 12m kite can be difficult to setup because the 12m kites often need more than 4m of travel, to stop sufficiently.


Problems with stoppers:

Stopper balls are often made from plastic. And are slightly bulky and heavy. This can be a potential for the lines to get stuck on the stopper. Stopper balls are not always balls, they can be rings, balls, cubes, or cylinders. The shape does not always matter. But generally  it is not good to have a stopper that is too big or too bulky. The stopper is a lump on the kite line that could lead to line tangles.


Stopper-less Safety Systems on bars:

Many bars systems have now been designed to be stopper-less. The value of having a stopper is n many cases does not outweigh the disadvantages like tangling. So some bar designers have decided to leave the stopper off the safety line. These bars when released have the potential to slide all the way to the kite. But they seldom do.

After the bar is released, and the safety system is activated, the bar will usually slide up the safety line until the kite is depowered. So the bar can travel as needed the distance necessary to depower the kite. This takes away the problems of line tangles, and also minimizes the worry of a “stopper” being incorrectly set. However depending on the situation the bar can still slide to the kite.


The bar will slide all the way to the kite on a stopper-less system, when:

The rider pulls the kite towards him with the safety line.

Or when the bar is suddenly releases while it is under high tension, like accidental chicken loop release, Or a chicken loop or trim line breaks.

Of when very short lines are used (like 4m training lines).

In these cases the bar can find itself all the way up at the kite.

This is not a problem in itself but it is a nuisance, because it makes the lines messy and difficult to roll up.


Slider Systems:

A slider or stopper on the trim line should not be confused with a stopper ball on the control line. The Slider or stopper on the trim line limits the travel of the bar on the trim line, so it controls the sheeting range of the kite. It is not part of the kites safety system.

However the slider or trim stopper do have an effect of the safety system.

It is important to understand the differences between these systems and also the impact that they have on each other.

The first trimable kites had no stoppers on the trim lines. But they could be adjusted by shortening the trim line and tying a sorter tri line t limit bar travel. As trim lines got longer, and after the advent of the Bow kites and SLE kites, there needed to ne a long travel to allow the kites to fully depower. The travel could easily be 60-75cm or longer.

With such a long travel on the trim line, the rider could lose touch with the bar, when they let go. This was also a problem for the rider to un-spin the bar because they would lose their grip. The other problem that prompted the use of a slider/stopper, was that the rider would get tired arms after a while and could not rest because their arms were always active sheeting in the kite.

Kite/bar designers then added fixed balls to the trim line, that could limit the distance the bar could slide up the trim line.


Releasable trim-line stoppers:

Because Bow kites and SLE kites needed the full length of the trim line to fully depower, there had to also be a way to make the slider/stoppers release and allow the bar to slide fully up the trim line. This was especially important in an emergency. Designers came up with several solutions. One system was the clickable or “load releasing” stopper ball, These stoppers on the trim line would click into place and give the rider a resting place for the bar during normal use. Some of these systems were called “Over-ride stopper system”


Over-ride stopper system:

But when necessary the rider could push the bar hard against the stopper and it would unclick, and pop off allowing the bar to slid up the lines.

These clickable or load releasing systems were not perfect and would occasionally have malfunctions, and no unclick when needed. This actually caused accidents and problems. So eventually most people took them off again.


Then along came a Slider:

Trim stoppers were static and had to be adjusted for the riders preferred position. But this was either difficult to do or did not allow a variety of possible positions. So designers came up with a slideable trim stopper, or “slider”. The slider was a movable stopper, that could slide to any position on the trim line. This gave the rider the ability to set the bars maximum sheeting distance, and act as a sort of cruise control. The rider could position the slider to the preferred position closer to the bar for more power or farther away for more de-power.  This was handy for different wind conditions as well as convenient for riders of differing arm lengths. In gusty wind the rider could move the slider up so it allowed them to ride with the bar unrestricted so they could sheet out quickly. In steady winds the rider could bring the slider down closer to the bar to provide a resting place for the bar, and their arms could take a break too.


Types of Sliders:

There are generally tow types o sliders Static Sliders and “push-through” sliders.

The problem with early sliders is that once you bring the slider down close to the bar, you lose the ability to sheet out fully, and stop the kite’s power. This is akin to getting the gas pedal stuck on your car. If the slider was down and there was a problem the rider has to eject the bar by activating the chicken loop release.  Sometimes sliders can slide down on their own either because they are loose, or because they get knocked down by something. Then the rider does not realize that the slider is down n a powered position until they try to sheet out, but then it can already be too late.

A Later development was the “push-through” stopper, the push through was designed to provide enough resistance to provide a rest stop for the bar, but it could also be moves back up the trim line by pushing hard on the bar. The push through type was not accepted by everyone. And it was a compromise between convenience and safety.

Manufacturer of bars, still use static and push through sliders on there bars to this day. At leash one manufacturer of kites/bars sells their bars without the slider attached,. That way you have to make a conscious decision to use the slider, and they warn that you do use the slider at your own risk. The slider comes in a separate “kit” with a warning label attached.


Know your Stopper Slider:

If you see a bar with a slider or stopper in the trim line, you should endeavor to unsd4rstand its designed function and operational limitations. The best way to do that is read the owners manual, as well as speak to an experienced profession al instructor. Who has owned and used the same type of system.


Recoil System:

One system that has been developed to replace the need for a stopper/slider is the recoil system (from Cabrinha). The recoil system looks like a spring on the center trim line. Its job is to help the rider keep the bear within reach while spinning, but still allow the bar to travel sufficiently to depower the kite.


Harness lines, Trim loops, and the advent of the Chicken Loop:

In the sport’s early says fixed harness lines were used. The fixed harness line was adapted from windsurfers, and they provided a place to hook into while kiting. But it was quickly discovered that this was dangerous because in extreme situations the kiter could not unhook. Especially when there was a high load on the kite (EG. A power-looping kite).

So harness lines were adapted to include a quick release that the rider could activate in an emergency.

The releasable harness line became the standard in safety systems. Non-releasable harness lines with their known safety problems were all but outlawed (IKO banned their use).  This was the standard until the 2 line kites gave way to the first bow kites.

Bow kites came with chicken loops and harness lines. The rider had the option to use the fixed harness line for light wind, or movable “trim (chicken) loop” for strong wind.

Eventually people were using the fixed harness line less and less, until most people stopped using them in favor of using the chicken loops only. (there was an exception on Maui where thee was a Wakestyle Pulley-bar movement that refused to use chicken loops, because that was considered cheating. (foot straps too were considered unmanly) It was this group that coined the phrase “chicken loop”, in reference to the rider being “too chicken” to us e a full power fixed harness line system.

The chicken loop was so easy to use when compared to the fixed line, that some people considered it cheating. So it was dubbed the “chicken loop”.


Two Schools of harness line users:

There were two schools, the Fixed Four-line users with pulley bar and fixed harness lines, and the Chicken loop users. Before trim stoppers and sliders, the chicken trim line just freely slide through the bar, so the harness line was a convenient way to rest the arms, and to keep the bar sheeted in in light winds.

There were also problems with having the two harness lines because you could be using the trimable moving chicken loop, and accidentally hook into the fixed line. If you didn’t expect to hook into the Fixed harness line, you got a shock when you couldn’t sheet out the bar, and the kites power was stuck on maximum. This caused a lot of wipeouts and a few serious accidents as well. T o prevent unplanned hook ins, Riders would twist the fixed line way from them when using the trim loop.


But after a while people stopped using the harness line and just used the chicken loop.

Some manufacturers gave the fixed harness line to the customer not attached to the bar so that it was implied or recommended to only use it as an Optional extra.


Early Chicken Loops:

The first Chicken loops were called trim loops. The phrase chicken loop came later. The trim loop, or trim-able harness line, was an optional extra for the two line kites.

Early chicken loops did not release. So they were considered for experts only. Releasable fixed lines had been developed, and systems that could quick release a two line bar, but when the first chicken loops came they had no way to quickly release them.

The other problem with chicken loops was that they could become accidentally unhooked. If the tension on the lines was lost the loop could fall out of the harness hook, and the rider would be unhooked accidentally. To prevent this several methods came about.


Captured Chicken loops:

To prevent chicken loops from falling out people started adding a extra piece that was known as the donkey dick, this was a plastic tube that went into the harness hook after the chicken loop was hooked into the harness,. This device locked the chicken loop into the harness hook, and essentially “captured” it. Captured chicken loops were for the advanced riders, because they also made it harder to unhook, in an emergency. Another inventive solution was that snap shackle. This was popular in Hawaii and the U.S. A quick release snap shackle was attached to the harness, and could be snapped onto the chicken loop. Being shackled in was for advanced riders only, but the rider had the option to release the snap shackle in an emergency. Some shackles would not release as planned in an emergency because of the high loads, or cheap manufacturing process. But eventually snap shackles were replaced by the modern releasable chicken loops.


Quick Release Trim Loop

Not until there were some serious accidents and at least one fatality do the trim loop evolve into its modern version. Because people could not unhook quickly or in an emergency, there were having accidents. It was ultimately apparent that there needed to be a quick release on the trim loops. They were added, and eventually became the standard. The Quick Release trim loop or QRTL, was an important safety innovation that’s importance should not be underestimated. People should never forget the price that was paid to promote the improvements that we can use today.

We must never forget to never Ever used a non-releasing harness line on any kitebar, NEVER EVER AGAIN


Two-line to 4line conversions:

Later model  Two-line Kites could be re-configured to be 4line kites. The bridled removed, the tips could be furled, and the trim loop would be added. The bar cam e with a hole that a line could be passed through, to make your own trim loop.

It should be noted that this was done on trial and error basis, and riders discovered the best way to do this largely on their own. The early trim-loops did not have any form of depower strap, because depower straps were not invented yet. They came along later.



Mini-harness Loop

One variation of the fixed harness loop was the mini-harness loop. This was a North invention, and it was a little version of the harness line that would engage a hook that was built onto the side of the chicken loop. The mini-harness loop was about two inches across, and stayed out of the way most of the time. When the wind was light the rider could hook the chicken loop into the mini-harness loop.. But this system also had its flaws. People sometimes became accidentally hooked in. and sometimes when the bar was sheeted in all the way the hook slipped into the harness loop, and then the rider couldn’t depower. Some serious accidents resulted. Despite these problems Surprisingly the mini-harness loop stayed around for a long time, and many users defended this system. But eventually it became  “optional” and eventually they stopped using it (I hope that they did).

But you might still see them on some older bars. So be careful. Our advice was to remove them from the bar altogether which was relatively easy to do.


Using Old Equipment:

Kiteboarding has been mainstream for many years. Production equipment has been around since the early days of the sport and it has been mass produced. So there is a lot of older production equipment out there. However there have also been major advances in technology and vast improvements in safety systems. So buyers should be aware that the easily bars are very primitive, and unsophisticated when compared to their modern counterparts.

There are also many old bars being sold still today. Beginner kiters might think that they are scoring a cheap deal on kite gear, and think that they are getting a bargain buying a complete kite setup for 100 dollars. But in reality they are just buying trouble. Older systems are not as safe as modern systems. Older systems may also be inoperable or malfunction purely to do the age and decrepitude.

So it is always a cause for concern when using any old gear. Anything older that 3 years is old in kiting terms. So please know that if the system you are using is a three year old year-model, that is has probably been superseded.

For safety reasons schools usually teach on the latest gear. (IKO has a policy to use the latest gear).




Retrofitting bars:

In some situations it is possible to retro fit bars with newer safety systems. Check with the distributor and the supplier of the bar’s particular brand to see if there are updates available. Retrofitting usually requires a proper procedure. Whenever possible have an expert apply the retrofit. Always have an experienced kiter test the equipment after it have been retrofitted. Any test of equipment has to include a practical test in controlled conditions, and all of the safety systems should be activated according to the common incident simulation procedures.


Adapting bars:

In some cases it is desirable to refit bars or repurposed bars.

Example: you may want to use a “real” kite bar for your trainer kite.

A real 4-line bar can be re-fitted to be used on a trainer kite. This has the benefit of having the look and feel of a real bar. This can help the student transition more easily from the trainer to the four-line LEI. Whenever adapting the bar you should be extremely careful to make the systems compatible for the purpose. Any bar refit should be done by an experienced person, and the resulting gear should be tested but an experienced kiter.

If you are adapting a four-line bar to a two line kite, it is Not ok to put on a fixed harness line. Only use a releasable harness line, or adapt a releasable chicken loop to fit the bar.


Learning from the past:

  • Several Safety Standards have become the foundation of safe Kiteboarding.
  • A